Alliance Archives

About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

South Huntington Corridor Under Study and “Development Footprint”

March 1st, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Wednesday night I attended a public meeting held by the Boston Redevelopment Authority Planning Division regarding their ongoing South Huntington Avenue Corridor Study.  The planning team’s first cut, in which they summarized community concerns and presented concepts to be formalized into guidelines, was generally well received by the audience. Comments were constructive rather than combative and the overall tone was positive, which will hopefully lead to a constructive and effective process and drive continued community-engaged planning efforts here and in other parts of the city.

It was great to see Chief City Planner, Kairos Shen, in attendance, engaged, and answering questions, demonstrating that the city is giving this effort some serious attention. Certainly it would have been better had this process occurred before plans were approved for the Home for Little Wanderers site (the original building dates from 1914 – if the approved project moves forward it will be mean the loss of a century-old Boston institutional landmark and a build-out over essentially the full extent of the site).  Nevertheless, this planning process is moving quickly and we were told the new guidelines will influence plans for projects already or soon-to-be in the pipeline, including a proposal for a large housing project at 105A South Huntington and the anticipated new ownership of the currently vacant Goddard House, another historic building for which the Alliance is concerned. We certainly can’t lost another significant building in this region.

One planning tool being proposed is a new measure of site usage/density called “development footprint.”  Adding to commonly-used guidelines on height and FAR (floor to area ratio), this new measure brings another perspective and a new tool to help examine the impact of new development.  FAR tells only part of the story about how a site is to be used.  For example, a building taking up the entire site and one story gives the same FAR as a 2-story building taking up 1/2 the lot … or a 4 story building on 1/4 the site, etc. All of these have an FAR of 1, but they have very different impacts on the site, the streetscape and the character of the neighborhood.  The new metric, development footprint, provides a better picture of the impact of construction at the street level by taking into account the percentage of the site developed including parking lots, among other subsidiary uses. Take look at some of the draft diagrams presented by the BRA.

We were pleased to see that the planners looked at the historic development of the area and how the way lots were divided and built initially established the character of the area by dividing it into the three zones that exist today. The planning team has wisely divided the site into three “districts,” recognizing the non-homogeneity of the corridor and its differing character along the nearly mile-long stretch of road.

We look forward to further refinement of this South Huntington plan and the opportunity to weigh in on another, more developed draft. We also look forward to  participating in additional planning efforts that work to preserve the special character of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Check out the BRA web site for all the details:

A few images from the BRA presentation are below:

Historic Development

FAR (Floor area ratio)



Development Footrpint





Boston Globe Recognizes Historic Preservation

February 25th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The Hayden Building, Courtesy of Historic Boston, Inc.



Thank you to the Boston Globe (“The priceless past,” Sunday, 2/22)  for recognizing the value of historic preservation in our city and those of us who work to keep the preservation successes coming:  “Boston, which owes so much of its charm to the historic treasures in its midst, also owes a debt of gratitude to the people who fight to preserve them. ”

Historic Boston Inc.’s restoration of this little-known architectural gem by renowned architect H.H. Richardson is another reminder  that  our historic fabric and the essence of what makes Boston unique lies not just in the monumental and iconic buildings we all know, but also the assemblage of smaller buildings that make up the neighborhoods’ distinctive streetscapes.  As the Globe notes, restoration work such as this helps revitalize neighborhoods.  Although new construction plays an important part in the city’s continued growth and evolution let us not be fooled by false arguments that historic buildings inherently hold us back, aren’t green, or can’t be made to serve another hundred years or more.   The influx of residents to our city is in large part driven by what makes Boston special and the unique and desirable character  derived from our historic buildings and landscape.  The Hayden Building is another great example .  Just look at the picture accompanying the Globe article.  Where would you rather work or call home, the Hayden Building in the foreground or the rather characterless building in background?

Congratulations HBI for another successful project. We look forward to the ribbon cutting later this week and to many others in the future , each demonstrating that new life can be reborn form old bones.

Enhancing Our Outreach

February 19th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Recently the Preservation Alliances has made enhancements in our ability to manage our social media and blog outreach. A change in services will allow us to better communicate with you and make sure you are fully up-to-date with the latest developments and news that affect the historic resources of Boston.

In order to continue to receive email notifications when we post to our blog, please go to and subscribe with your email address.  The previous subscription service will no longer be updated with our blog postings.

And don’t forget to follow us on our increasingly active Twitter feed @BOSpreservation and like us on facebook:   Boston Preservation Alliance.

A great read on what’s historic and why it matters

February 4th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

This article is a must read for anyone who wants to know why old buildings matter. While it’s written about Knoxville, TN, it’s applicable to Anytown, USA, and certainly applies to Boston.

Updating Mid-Century Modern – the Christian Science Plaza and its Less Successful Cohorts

January 30th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Courtesey of Google Earth

The Christian Science Plaza is one of the city’s most successful pieces of planning and architecture.  Fie on those who deride all mid-century modern construction. This area of the city not only works but is beautiful and successfully integrates the 1894 & 1906 church with I.M. Pei’s 1970s vision for a place of both self-reflection and public gathering. I remember even as a teenager finding the tranquility of the reflecting pool, the quiet lapping of the water over its edge and how it frames the building reflections and sky inside it like a living painting.  An amazing place to which I have long felt a personal connection, despite the fact that the Christian Science church is not my spiritual home.

So, how does the city evolve and adapt when changes are proposed at such a special location?  Just a few years ago the Alliance (before my time here) played a central role in that question when changes were first proposed.  We were active in making the Plaza a Boston City Landmark, not to halt all changes to but to provide a level of protection that would prohibit wonton, careless, and thoughtless changes.  Just as the site itself promotes thoughtfulness, it deserves a pensive, well though-out process that can allow for evolution without damaging what is truly special about this place to the city and its character.

Paul McMorrow looks at the success of the Christian Science Plaza, intimates some appropriate concern about changes here, as is appropriate since it “works” so well, and notes how the Christian Science Plaza’s success compares with the less popular and less successful mid-century modern City Hall, Lindemann-Hurley Complex, and the JFK Building.  He raises valid questions why the first big project is at the most successful site of the mid-century modern cohorts.

So I say, how do we provide the appropriate level of protection for these buildings which capture an important period in the architectural and physical development of both Boston and the nation, but do so in a way that allows for an appropriate level of change there to make these structures function better (internally and from the outside). Preservation needs to apply different solutions to different situations.  This is not a one-size fits all business. City Hall and its neighbors are certainly no Christian Science Center.  But that doesn’t mean we should reject them wholesale.

The Alliance looks forward to continuing the challenging dialog on mid-century modern.  These buildings are not easy on so many levels, and that’s what makes discussion of their future so exciting. They present a great opportunity to discuss core values in historic preservation.


New Construction Picks Up … with Alliance Involvement

January 25th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer


The Christian Center

I’ve been struck by the volume of news in recent days, no in fact weeks, of new Boston construction projects associated with historic resources in the city.  From what we’re seeing, the economy is picking up which is both beneficial and threatening to Boston’s special character.  The Alliance was involved with many of the projects hitting the news as these efforts matured from concepts, some going back several years, to finally moving forward.  We are currently actively providing input on many such projects today, demonstrating the important ways in which historic preservation and new construction interface.

The Alliance looks forward to continuing to guide project proponents and the city.  We promote thoughtful decisions about how the city evolves, encouraging changes that respect and enhance the unique character of the city that is so integrally connected with our historic resources.

A few recent projects in the news include: Towers at the Christian Science Center,  historic facades at Hong Lok in Chinatown, The Huntington Ave. YMCA, and developments in north station.  In upcoming posts I’ll provide a little bit of information about each projects and the issues of historic resources related to them.

Hong Lok House in Chinatown

A New Year and Opportunities to Begin Again

January 3rd, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

I was pleased this January 1st to find Paul McMorrow’s editorial in The Boston Globe (“The twin phoenixes: Filene’s and Ferdinand”) looking at the cyclical nature of the city’s evolution.  McMorrow extolls the virtues of some of the city’s most exciting new projects anchored in historic preservation as he speaks of two projects in which the Alliance is playing a major role – the Millennium/Filene’s block on Washington Street and the city’s new School Department Offices under construction at the old Ferdinand’s Blue Store in Dudley Square. These developments represent the message that I wish to spread from the Alliance to the community at large:  Historic Preservation embraces smart-thinking, innovative, and creative change – change that blends old and new and reinforces the unique, character-defining aspects of the city.

Spreading that message is my new year’s resolution, to replace the oft-cited but erroneous claim that historic preservation is obstructionist, is antithetical to construction jobs, or hampers the city’s growth and evolution. Instead I want recognition that preserved historic resources are a catalyst for growth and one of the keys to the city’s booming desirability as a place to live, work, and play. Certainly not every historic building is worthy of preservation, but because historic resources offer so very much in character, environmental benefit (“the greenest building is the one that already exists” is an oft-cited phrase), and contribute to the overall desirability of the city’s aesthetic and sense of place, the default mode must be to first assess all opportunities for preservation and adaptive reuse rather than to first look at demolition and replacement.

The projects that McMorrow cites are prime examples of historic resources providing the spring-board to new development.  Other areas of the city show the same. One needn’t look any further than across Fort Point Channel’s historic bridges. The historic brick warehouses along Summer and Congress streets are alive with a rapidly growing number of businesses, residents, and nightlife. This historic neighborhood is the gateway to the Innovation District, the fastest growing area of the city. Just as the Millennium project within one block will demonstrate how historic preservation and new construction work in harmony, so does this entire section of South Boston, from the bridges to Liberty Wharf

So, for 2013 I wish you the best of luck in fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions. I for one know that mine, to change the perception of historic preservation, is bolstered by some incredible work going on the city today.

Click here to read more about Filene’s and Ferdinand’s projects from the Spring 2012 edition of the AllianceLetter.

Rising Above the Noise

November 29th, 2012  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Here it is, nearly December and I assume you, like me, find yourself inundated by requests for donations. Every non-profit organization knows this is the time of year when charitable giving peaks.  And let’s face it – most everyone has a good case. Demand for services from non-profits continues to increase while expenses rise and funding opportunities shrink.  Many organizations have accomplished wonderful things over the past year, and the need for greater support continues to grow

Yes, yes, all true, but I can’t be the only one who finds all these please starts to merge into white noise by the fifth or tenth or twentieth appeal.  I start to glaze over after a while.  Who doesn’t?  There are simply too many good causes.

But, as the Executive Director of a non-profit myself, I cannot simply ignore my responsibility and not wander into the fray. Individual donations are essential to our survival.  So, I ask myself how the Boston Preservation Alliance can rise above the din?  How do I demonstrate that your contribution to the Alliance can have a huge impact here?  That unlike many organizations, we do not have an endowment generating operating funds, that we draw no revenue from the city, that we earn no funds from property ownership, etc.  Our success in preserving the unique fabric and character of the city, of working to make new developments harmonize and build upon the benefits of our historic sites, of hosting programs to enhance our understanding and care of our historic city all depend on donors like you.

I want to emphasize one major point that makes us stand out this year. The Boston Preservation Alliance  is in an important place in the life of our organization, a strategic position paralleled by few other city non-profits.  We have the benefit of an experienced, new Executive Director (me) and an energized board anxious to step up. Working with our board we have begun a process of institutional reflection, self-analysis, and planning.  Every organization benefits from focused strategic planning every so often to build a stronger, more effective organization.  After over three decades it’s time to take measure of where we are and how we most effectively use your forthcoming donation to best move forward, expanding our presence and influence.

Along with your donation to support the Alliance and our planning effort, please pass along your thoughts about the Alliance.  Do you like our programs?  Do you support our advocacy efforts?  What should we do differently?  Are our successes best measured in efforts like saving Fenway Park and the historic theaters or our Annual Preservation Achievement Awards or in the regular educational and social programs we offer throughout the year?

I know that supporters like you contribute because you share in our commitment to the built environment of our city. And now, more than ever, your financial support is critical not only to our success as the watch-dog and advocate of Boston’s unique historic fabric, but to the continued strength of our organization.

I thank you in advance for your generous contribution to our Annual Fund. Your tax-deductible gift demonstrates your support of our ongoing work and your investment in the Alliance’s future.   And please send along your thoughts and comments by posting to the blog.  Help us rise above the din of the season with a meaningful gift and some thoughtful input.

Thank you.


Preservation Priorities – An AllianceLetter Inspired Discussion

October 31st, 2012  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The current issue of the Alliance’s newsletter, AllianceLetter, includes three articles that address various aspects of the future of historic preservation:

  • “Preservation: It Isn’t About the Past Anymore – And Probably Never Was,” by David Eisen
  • “Mid-Century Modern is all the Rage and It’s Changing Preservation,” by David Fixler
  • “Historic Houses: Are We Done,” by Carl Nold

What do you think about the future of historic preservation? What should our priorities be?  How do we deal with more modern sites as they become older?  How do we prioritize where to put our limited resources to protect, preserve, and keep historic sites in active use to assure their long-term preservation?

Share your views to begin a discussion.

Daniel Burnham’s Filene’s Building and the Millennium Tower

October 6th, 2012  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Courtesy of the Bostonian Society

In the months leading up to my new position as Executive Director of the Alliance, I had many meetings in the downtown area.  As I made my way in and out of the city’s historic retail district – where the Alliance office is located – I had no idea that this area would soon become my “home base.” I also didn’t know that I would find myself in the midst of one of the best examples of historic preservation and new development working hand-in-hand to improve the quality of Boston.

Each time I made my way down Washington Street it was like a trip down memory lane.  I vividly remember being among the throngs of people that filled the entire downtown shopping area particularly during the holiday shopping seasons of the early 1970s: the hustle and bustle of Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, Kennedy’s, R.H. Stearn, and Gilchrist’s; the view from the street looking up at those fancy, towering buildings; the thought of floor-after-floor filled with an overwhelming array of items to purchase; and the witnessing of numerous incidents between women in “The Basement” bickering over who grabbed a blouse first.  These were the days when there was just one authentic Filene’s Basement – it was here in the heart of the city.

As I look back, I can see myself trying to understand it all.  At one end of Washington Street there was an overwhelming  volume of people, noise and activity.  In stark contrast, at the other end of Washington Street – which seemed like another world — there were buildings in various stages of disrepair, neon and lights, and unkempt characters lurking in the shadows.  There was a sense of discomfort associated with that end of Washington Street.  The differences between the two ends of the same street didn’t make much sense.

How times have changed!  Now, the end of Washington Street that we avoided has life and vibrancy — particularly at night.  The theaters have been rejuvenated (thanks in part to the Alliance!), new buildings have become home to thousands, and popular new restaurants and other business are in full swing.

Meanwhile, what we now call “Downtown Crossing” (that T stop will always be “Washington Street” to me) has been patiently waiting for over four years for a game changer.  And that day has arrived.  The Millennium project, recently approved by the BRA and enthusiastically supported by the Alliance, is the spark that will revitalize Washington Street.

On one end of the block, the Millennium project will beautifully restore Daniel Burnham’s 1912 Filene’s building to its original glory.  On the other end of the block, a sleek, new, glass-walled skyscraper will showcase the most modern of building technologies.  And the two buildings will exist in a harmonious and symbiotic relationship.  According to the Millennium team, the Burnham Building, with all its historic character, is an essential anchor to the 625’ tower beside it.  This building will contain retail businesses on its lower floors, re-energizing Washington Street, and will house offices on its upper levels.  In contrast, the new tower will serve both retail and specialized  uses such as a health club on its lower floors and contain up to 600 residential units above, continuing efforts to bring sustainable 24 hour life to this part of the city. (See the 9/23 Boston Sunday Globe for more insights from Millennium Partners Principal Tony Pangaro) []

This is not a case of a developer reluctantly keeping the old because it is necessary, a ball and chain that must regrettably be accommodated.  Instead, it was wise insight and planning that recognized the value of an historic resource and understood how to use it to the advantage of the overall project.

The Filene’s building was designed by Daniel Burnham (1846-1912), a central figure in the development of modern cities, and a leader in the development of the modern, steel-framed building, and the skyscraper.  He effectively created the field of urban planning, recognizing the many complex aspects that come into play in the development of a city:  architecture and design, politics and financing.  The Filene’s building represents his final major work and his only work in Boston.

This project serves as great testimony to Daniel Burnham.  It demonstrates the power of good design and planning, and is a project that will substantively move the city forward by blending old with new.  Could there be a better legacy to the history of Filene’s and its cohorts than using their history and former vibrancy to bring new life to the area?

In my opinion, this project should stand as one of the best examples of new and old working together — each providing benefits to enhance the project as a whole.  And for those of us who promote historic preservation, this is, in many ways, a leading case study of preservation in action today.